Climate Change Adaption and Our Path to Food Security
This week, leaders worldwide are again meeting for the annual United Nations (UN) climate meeting known as the Conference of Parties or COP. Now in its 28th edition, the conference is held this year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and aims to facilitate discussions among governments and citizens on strategies to mitigate and adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.
We must look back at what this means for countries like ours.
Climate Change is real. Sierra Leone is among the world’s most vulnerable and most affected countries by climate change. While this may sound alarming, it is a reality that we all face. The threat posed by climate change is evident around us.
In recent times, we have seen devastating mudslides that killed over a thousand of our compatriots in August 2017. Our cities continue to experience annual flooding despite some flood mitigation efforts. There are rising sea levels swallowing up our beaches.
In rural communities, our rivers are drying out, and the unpredictable levels of rainfall are affecting our domestic food production. Several communities now face record-high levels of water scarcity. Communities where you only needed to dig eight or ten meters down for wells ten years ago would now require at least twenty or twenty-five meters deep for water.
As most areas become drier and fresh grass disappears, we are experiencing a massive spread of insects in many communities, threatening our crops and the health of our people. These threats are pushing more people, especially women and children, into extreme poverty. The problems continue to limit the space for grazing domestic animals and increase conflicts between cattle herders and farmers in Kambia, Falaba, Kabala, and other districts. More and more people are abandoning once lucrative ventures like farming and fishing and migrating to other areas. The increase in poverty levels due to climate change has pushed others to turn to burning charcoal for survival, and our forests are quickly disappearing in front of us.
Climate change remains a major threat to our food security and national security.
The good thing is, through my husband, President Bio’s leadership, Sierra Leone is making tremendous efforts in education, social justice, and promoting women’s and girls’ rights. While recognizing the impact of climate change, he created the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change for the first time. He also set up a special Presidential Initiative on Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and Food Security.
President Maada Bio has taken bold, ambitious steps on climate change and food security. His previous efforts on education, social justice, and the rights of women and girls have yielded significant results in just five years. We have witnessed an increase in girls’ enrollment in schools, justice system reforms, and more women participating in decision-making nationwide.
As First Lady, I recognized the numerous challenges we face in our country. And like my husband, my biggest hope is to see a prosperous Sierra Leone. A Sierra Leone with sufficient food produced domestically. A country where women and girls will feel safe and where we can all coexist regardless of our tribes, regions, and political affiliations.
This type of Sierra Leone is possible for all of us. President Bio is already laying the foundation for this to happen. We are now on the path toward an ambitious food security effort.
But achieving this will require a lot of collective effort from all citizens.
We must begin to prioritize discussions on climate change on a national level. We must engage farmers on climate change adaptation techniques and how such techniques could improve local farming. I urge the creation of women-led farming initiatives in vulnerable communities and the provision of environmentally friendly irrigation systems to allow them to farm even in the dry season. This will significantly reduce their dependency on burning charcoal for survival and further save our forests. We must consider initiatives to support women, schools, and youth groups across Sierra Leone. We must develop a framework on climate change that includes youth groups, teachers, and religious and traditional leaders to make our efforts more impactful and sustainable.
Let us all be climate change champions.
- H.E Dr. Fatima Maada Bio
First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone.